Silent Women's Flash Mob in the Metro

April 26th, 2017
Bloc text

On April 26, 2017, from 10 a.m. to noon, as part of the Women's Centres' Week of Action Against Austerity, one hundred participants from women's centres in Montreal and Laval - including many TGFM members - infiltrated the Montreal metro. They were there to denounce Bill 25 (social assistance reform) and its impacts on the most vulnerable sectors of society, especially women.

A Telling Silence

Carrying paper cut-outs decorated with powerful statements, numerous women waited silently on the platforms of selected metro stations (from Jean-Talon to Côte-des-Neiges). The wounds covering the cut-outs showed the violence inflicted on women by reforms to social assistance and austerity politics. Dressed in capes, the cut-outs also represented the solidarity and dedication to the cause maintained by women's centre members in the area and throughout Quebec.

Social Assistance: A Fundamental Right

Quebec established its social assistance program to ensure that the most vulnerable members of society have a minimum income and are less likely to find themselves in poverty. Living with dignity is a fundamental right and the government has a responsibility to preserve that right. By placing new restrictions on social assistance, such as forced-employment measures, Quebec's Liberal government is limiting access to that right. This government means to force individuals, even those applying for social assistance for the first time, to register for employability programs. If they don’t, they are threatened with seeing their already-meager cheque reduced from $623 to $399, which is clearly not enough to cover basic essentials. Furthermore, this unjust measure feeds into prejudices about people living on social assistance, who are already seen as "freeloaders." "Minister Blais, social assistance is not a choice, it is a right!" exclaimed Ms. Graciela Mateo, spokeswoman for the Table régionale des centres de femmes de Montréal métropolitain et Laval (TRCFMML).

The Impact of Bill 25 on Women

Women's centres in Montreal and Laval spoke out against this bill because once again, it disproportionately affects women. Far from being "lazy," women make up the majority of people who leave their jobs to care for loved ones and are more likely to experience harassment or even violence in the workplace. They are the ones who lose their jobs due to budget cuts in the health, education or social services sectors, where a majority of workers are women. This bill follows a long list of draconian cuts put in place from 2014-2016 by the Liberal government. Throughout Quebec, these measures have disproportionately diminished women's income. "By keeping their income at a level where they are no longer able to find a way out, we are forcing women to stay in poverty. That's unacceptable," asserted Ms. Mateo.

Women's Centres Demand a Massive Reinvestment in Public Services

Women's centres and the TRCFMML demand that the Quebec government invest on a massive scale in public services and abolish Bill 25. "The budget surpluses generated by cuts to services we have a right to use must be reinvested by the government in public services," explained Graciela Mateo. Social assistance must remain a safety net that is available to all people in difficulty. Women's centres are calling for the government to adopt the fiscal solutions developed by the Coalition Main Rouge, allowing it to collect more than $10 billion. If, for example, the government took action against tax evasion rather than targeting its poorest residents, as it does with Bill 25, it could recuperate a minimum of $740 million annually. We have the means to adequately fund our public services!